Prior to the beginning of these japanese classes, I’d already studied and felt like I had a grasp on Hiragana and Katakana. Hiragana and Katakana are two of the 4 Japanese syllabary. The Japanese writing system is a trip (complex). From my finite understanding of Japanese language history I know the following. Please feel free to comment if you notice any errors. Kanji came from the Chinese language but there were too many differences between Chinese and Japanese phonology and syntax so they added hiragana and katakana as mnemonics to help them make the language uniquely Japanese.
Below are examples of each writing system.
Japanese elementary students learn Hiragana and Katakana first. Kindergarten-1st grade
Students then learn 1,006 Kanji (Chinese characters) over six years. There are 2,136 commonly used kanji! That only includes the commonly used kanji.
Romanji: literally, “roman letters”. Example: Tshirt written in Romanji is “T-shatsu”
So yeah, I knew all the characters for both Hiragana and Katakana. And boy am I glad that I did!
On the first day of class we (myself and the six other people in my cohort) walked into class 5 minutes late! Now, if you know anything about Japanese culture you know that to be on time is to be early. I could give all the excuses but I should have followed my first mind and went in early. Instead, I realized that there was an “In-N-Out” two businesses down from the school and fed my face. It was delicious. I consider this a first impression fail. To be late and walk into a tiny classroom reeking of onions and fried delicacies.
Of course the class had already begun. The teacher, Kyoko, was speaking very little English and that was new. The only place I’d heard “Japanese only” was from watching anime with subtitles. I immediately grabbed hold to what I knew, which was hiragana, katakana and a few words. I wasn’t as lost as you’d imagine but I still felt overwhelmed. I can’t imagine walking into that class with no prior knowledge. It really made the saying “sink or swim” a reality. Over time I realized that I enjoyed the challenge of knowing very little and being forced to internalize it quickly in order to keep up. It forced me to take my home study more seriously. My goal was to keep up with the students who’d been taking the class for a few weeks or months prior. Competition doesn’t breed contempt, it breeds excellence!
The very first sentence that I learned is, in my eyes, the most important to learn in any language. Toire wa doko desu ka? Which means, “Where is the toilet?”. Whenever anyone asks me what I can say in Japanese I always respond with this gem. It never fails to make me chuckle. Why? Simply because toilet humor always amuses me.
After one month of taking two classes a week, I felt pretty confident. I learned that confidence in language learning is derived from not being afraid to make mistakes. My sister and I had this conversation recently. She mentioned that there are two types of foreigners that she’s met. The one that is super confidently making mistakes and the other is too afraid to speak. The confident one learns through trial and error. While the shy one has amazing language skill but no one will know if they aren’t brave.
So, here’s to saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Embarrassment is brief but the lesson will last forever. Hopefully.
If you’re interested in learning Japanese, Google has tons of free resources. The desire and drive to learn cost the most, everything else can be found free.